(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
Baker smiled -- and the cameras rolled -- as he entered a Babson College conference room.
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care chief executive Charles D. Baker announced today that he will leave his job and seek the Republican nomination for governor in the 2010 election.
"I'm in," Baker said at a press conference this afternoon at Babson College in Wellesley. "I'm very well suited for this task. And I would regret it -- for quite a while -- if under such difficult circumstances I chose to sit idly by and not participate."
Baker said he would run in the mold of former Governor William Weld, who was a fiscal conservative but held more liberal stances on social issues. He deflected several questions about Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, but said he would focus on jobs and the economy and retaining young workers.
"It's a pretty dark picture," he said of the economy. "And I don't think we're doing the things we need to do to make that picture better."
"My crystal ball isn't telling me what the election in 2010 is fundamentally and ultimately going to be about. But I can tell you right now, it ought to be about jobs and the economy and the business climate because a state that can't grow jobs and can't keep its young people is in deep, deep, serious long-term trouble. That's what I see when I look at Massachusetts right now," he said.
Republicans seemed downright giddy about Baker’s decision to get into the race, comparing him to Weld running in 1990 after 16 years of Democrats in the corner office.
"I think a lot of people just breathed a big sigh of relief," said Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, a Republican from Wakefield. "This means there is going to be a debate in this election as to whether or not the last 2 1/2 years the state has been on the right path -- or should we change directions. I think Charlie is the perfect person to explain why we need to change directions."
Patrick welcomed Baker's entry into the race, saying, "I think competition is good. I don't think we have enough."
Baker spent eight years in state government in the Cabinets of Weld and Governor Paul Cellucci. He served first as secretary of health and human services and then as secretary of administration and finance during some of the Big Dig.
Baker flirted with a run for governor four years ago, almost mounting a challenge to then-Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey for the GOP nomination. Baker announced he would not run at the end of August 2005 because he and his wife, Lauren, decided that a campaign would put an "unfair burden" on their family. They have two teenage sons and a young daughter.
Baker has served one three-year term as selectman in his hometown of Swampscott. He received a bachelor's degree in English from Harvard College and a master’s degree in management, concentrating in public administration and finance, from Northwestern’s Kellogg School.
In the fight for the GOP nomination, Baker will battle Christy Mihos, a convenience store magnate from West Yarmouth. Mihos garnered 7 percent of the vote when he ran for governor as an independent in 2006. Mihos announced in April that he would run.
On Tuesday, the Globe reported that State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill would leave the Democratic Party this week in what is probably a first step toward an independent gubernatorial candidacy. The news set off a massive scramble as potential candidates for treasurer tried staking a claim on front-runner status.
"The governor never expected to stand for re-election unopposed," Charlotte Golar Richie, executive director of Patrick's re-election committee, said in a statement. "There is plenty of time for the campaign in the future, but we welcome all candidates into the race and look forward to a serious discussion about how we will create new jobs, provide our children with the best education and the other important issues facing Massachusetts."
"Given the troubled times for families and for the Commonwealth, Charlie's breadth of experience in the private sector and in helping manage the state's financials will be extraordinarily helpful," former Governor Mitt Romney said in a statement. "With so many politicians that promise much but deliver little, it will make a real difference for Massachusetts families to have a governor who has actually accomplished so much."
Mihos, who announced in April that he would run in 2010 as a Republican, has hired Dick Morris, a well-known conservative political consultant and commentator who was involved in campaigns for Weld.
Mihos, in an interview this afternoon, characterized Baker as the pick of the party faithful, and someone who is “big business and big government.”
“Lookit, I am not an institutional or an insider Republican,” said Mihos, who is scheduled to speak to the Republican Town Committee tonight in Baker’s hometown, Swampscott. “If that’s what they want, they have Charlie. I’m an outsider, a populist Republican. We’ll let the people see what they want.”
Baker is well known among top political and business circles, but one of his major challenges will be trying to achieve better name recognition.
“A lot of people don’t know him,” said former governor Jane Swift. “He’s got to get out there quickly and define himself before his opponents do. He’s going to have to raise a lot of money and spend a lot of time shaking hands and kissing babies.”
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more